Catastrophe Con-Law

Bob Sheridan bobsheridan at
Sat Sep 24 12:55:35 PDT 2005

(1)    In light of the Katrina and Rita hurricanes the first of which 
caused the evacuation of New Orleans and the wiping out of power and 
life support systems over three states (Louisiana, Missippi, Alabama), 
and the second causing the evacuation of Port Arthur, Galveston, and 
Houston, a few questions:

When the mayor, governor, or principal federal officer says you must 
abandon your home and evacuate, is that advisory or mandatory, and if 
the latter, on what theory?  It seems that we have no statute law 
mandating obeying such "orders."  Would a statute requiring obedience to 
"emergency" orders be constitutional?  Does the president, a governor, 
or a mayor, have an implied or inherent power (police power perhaps) to 
order an evacuation absent a statute?  With a statute?  Traditionally 
the federal government has no general police power.  But such a power 
may be a reserved, non-delegated power of government, held by the states 
per Amend. 9.

The compelling or state interest would presumably be that to remain home 
during a predicted catastrophic hurricane represents an unreasonable 
risk to rescuers (on a danger invites rescue theory?).  I heard the 
mayor of Port Arthur respond to a reporters questions as to what happens 
to people who've refused to evacuate who later call for help.  They 
wait, was the answer, in effect, until first responders are allowed to 
respond come daylight, etc.  We have statutes requiring the wearing of 
motorcycle helmets, why not statutes requiring obedience to a lawful 
order to evacuate, similar to reading the riot act to disperse.

(2)    During the (current) evacuation of Arthur/Galveston/Houston, some 
2.5 million people piled families in cars and headed north.  Of course 
this created possibly the world's longest parking lot, what with people 
running out of gas or carrying such gasoline as they could find in their 
cars in cooler boxes, which is a bit like carrying a bomb in the car.  A 
bus carrying elderly patients caught fire, burned, and exploded, 
apparently from O2 bottles used by the passengers.  There were few 
places with room to accept the large number of people who headed north 
via automible.

It seems to me that telling everyone to leave at once is a bit like 
telling everyone in the airline waiting room to board the plane at 
once.  Airlines don't do that; they board by seat location.  Some smart 
people wait to deplane until the others have left.

How rational is it to obey the order of a public official to evacuate 
when one knows that no provision has been made for fuel, food, and 
shelter along the way and at the other end of the journey?  Especially 
if one wishes to defend ones property against the inevitable looters 
whenever there's a breakdown in vigilance and civil order.

(3)   Under current constitutional theory, do we, meaning local, state, 
and federal authorities, owe a duty of support to those ordered to 
evacuate?  For how long?  Does (or would or should) the amount of 
support owed, if any is owed, vary with status as a wage-earner, 
business owner, renter, or homeowner?

(4)    Is there any special law governing the conduct of aid agencies, 
such as the Red Cross?  According to a NYT report today, a county in 
Georgia booted the Red Cross for telling refugees that they could appear 
and receive credit cards or slips, which bounced, causing outrage and 

Since it now appears that Cat-5 hurricanes are here to stay, mustn't we 
now address Catastrophe Law, constitutional as well as statutory, or 
shall we continue to try to muddle through?


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